“Bridget’s Story” is part of the Love Life. Om. Survivor Story Series. All names and personal identifiers have been removed and/or edited. If you’d like your story published, complete the Survivor Story Series Submission Form.

It’s often said, “We never divorce the men we marry.” This was true for me.

Before I met him, my life was good as a single mom although I struggled a little to make ends meet by working multiple jobs. I met him when he was on a date with a friend of mine. He seemed different from other guys I dated. I was attracted to his logical side, his interests in books, and things of an intellectual nature. He seemed smart and a bit of a free spirit like myself. However, a voice inside my head said, “This guy is trouble.” I ignored that voice, because I didn’t trust myself. I was raised in abuse and conditioned to…well…negate my own intuitive callings.

At one time, I thought he loved me. I believed his family was good, because I believe in family. Little by little, the drip-drip of torments and micro-aggression flooded my life. Like the time his family called me an Amazon, because I’m tall. Or the time they made fun of their own oldest son for being a virgin. And when it wasn’t his family calling me names and mocking me, it was him. But he always denied mocking me and liked to play the “denying reality” game. The silent treatment was served up frequently, too, and he often called me a bad mother but refused to apologize or take responsibility in our relationship. It was often like being married to a wall; he NEVER softened.

Unfortunately, my heart was starved and my head was so wrapped up in having and maintaining the appearance of a close and happy family, I just didn’t see these types of comments and behaviors for what they REALLY were–abuse.

Our pattern was as follows: he’d provoke me while remaining calm and cool; then I’d freak out. I thought I had the problem. My triggers were so fine-tuned with him, making it easy for him to blame me. He even insisted I get anger management classes.

Eventually, I finally started using my voice in the relationship, albeit in an unhealthy way. I begged for love. I’m not proud to say that, but I did. I begged him to love me. It’s embarrassing to think about now. After all, he married me. Why did I feel responsible for making him love me?

But the real story wasn’t that he was cruel, selfish, void of empathy, passive-aggressive, or misogynistic. The real story is he led me into deep healing.

At the end of my marriage, he gave me a list of conditions to meet if I wanted to stay married to him. Without a trace of guilt or awareness, he told me the purpose of the list was to control me; he needed to control me as his wife.

Here’s the list:

>> Cease negative talk and self-talk in front of the kids.
>> Cease punitive and vindictive behaviors.
>> Find a way to cope with your intense emotions.
>> Have the children vaccinated.
>> You must support my parenting 100% of the time.
>> I’m in charge of the entire household: I control where furniture and pictures go, where my stuff goes, and how it is handled. I will consider you wishes and requests, but ultimately I am in charge (this from a guy who gave the silent treatment for three days if a plant stand was moved!).
>> You must make “I” statements 100% of the time, even when speaking of observable behaviors.
>> Tell me when your menstrual cycle begins and ends.
>> You are not to be on the computer just before dinner time.
>> You must trust everything I say, no matter if I lie to you; you must simply, blindly trust what I say.
>> Cease psychoanalyzing.
>> Change your Facebook status to “married”.
>> Your emails and Facebook are always open to me, and you will give me your passwords.
>> Cease triangulating.
>> You are to spend no more than $500 a month on food for our family of four.

The list contains things that in a normal marriage would be negotiable. Most of the things on the list are projection, and some variation of “don’t talk, don’t think, don’t feel, don’t trust yourself, and do everything I say.” When I first got the list, I was all, “hell no” inside, while tearfully considering it on the outside.

Then I got scared. If someone can demand control without batting an eyelash, then that someone is not normal. I realized I was dealing with way more than I’d bargained for. I told him I’d stay, a decision I made based on my therapist’s advice, to buy time for my son who was only three and who I didn’t want to bear the brunt of any damage from such an entitled man.

After accepting and agreeing to his terms, he said that wasn’t good enough and moved the goalpost in typical narcissistic fashion.

Six years ago, I filed for divorce; it’s still not final. During our first mediation, he presented me with a stack of motions detailing my history of depression and inadequacy as a mother, with the veiled threat being, “Prepare for a custody battle!”

I was weak. I didn’t know how to define it at the time. Unbeknownst to me, the emotional and mental effects of the abusive marriage and subsequent abusive divorce process mirrored my childhood trauma. It was like I was re-living it all over again, which rendered me completely powerless. I know not everyone who ends up with a narcissist is a survivor of child abuse or had a narcissistic parent. I had both, so I believe it’s no wonder I ended up with a narcissist for a husband.

Out of weakness, I agreed to his crappy co-parenting plan even though it did not reflect the kind of father he was; it reflected his desire to get out of paying child support. And I agreed to the child support he offered.

Six months later, he disagreed with his own agreement in court, stating he wasn’t obligated to pay child support because the judge hadn’t signed the agreement. Three years of continual and almost monthly motions ensued as he spent THOUSANDS trying to get out of paying child support. Finally, the court of appeals affirmed his agreement. Then there was a change of judge, and he filed another motion to terminate child support. He was successful this time.

The financial wreckage has been devastating. I can’t keep up with the debt. Last year he took five vacations–one to Bali. This able-bodied man claims he works full-time yet reduced his income by 1/3 in the middle of a dispute about child support?

If you have a child, you know what it’s like to be walking along holding hands with an unhappy toddler. At various moments, the toddler collapses his body in protest, ensuring you go no farther and cooperation is denied. This has been what “co-parenting” with my ex looks like. He will not pay a single school fee, but he will pay for extracurricular activities based on his interests, not the children’s.

To everyone else he looks like Mr. Awesome Dad. His family is rich, and his father is a former attorney. They know how to work the system and are determined to win, regardless of how detrimental it is to the children to create poverty in the home of the other co-parent.

I confronted my ex-family after they filed a motion against me as a group, because they took personally a request I made to my ex about scheduling and pickups. I wrote to them and asked: “How is financially crippling a child’s mother, the children we all care about, helping them?”

This family consists of 1) an ex-attorney, 2) a deacon in the Catholic church, 3) a psychotherapist, and 4) a social worker. The social worker is a millionaire thanks to money she inherited, which she uses to fund the family’s legal campaign against me. Despite their determined efforts to destroy the mother of one of “their own”, they look like a close, good, beautiful family; and I look like a crazy ex who’s left them with no option other than to subjugate me via the court system due to my “perceived” craziness. The sad part is, people believe this narrative of the “crazy” divorced woman over and over without question.

Another term I learned in therapy: enmeshment. Enmeshment describes a relationship between two or more people in which personal boundaries are permeable and unclear. It’s indicative of dysfunction, not health, and runs rampant in narcissistic families.

Thanks to their incongruence, I am better able to determine relationships for myself that are honest. I have grown a large intolerance for that kind of hypocrisy and watch it in myself as well. More than that, I have learned to stand on my own feet.

A divorce from a narcissist is devastating in the worst way. I worry about my kids going into the same shame bath their dad and his family are immersed. I was beaten down lower than the ground. There are whole chunks of time I don’t even remember. I was worse than a zombie. I lost weight, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t eat. I was a woman in the deepest kind of grief.

And through it, I learned to grieve.

I learned to feel the sadness of the little girl who was abused by her dad. I learned to feel the roiling anger of the teenager who was beaten down by her step dad. I learned to make peace with the part of me who was numb to the pain. I learned to set boundaries and speak up for myself with my ex, which I’m smart about. I’m aware and consciously tip-toe around narcissistic injury and am careful so I’m not taken back to court. I also document all his wayward behaviors.

I finally accept I cannot co-parent with this person except through court. I’ve also accepted my children chose him as their parent for their life lessons.

I learned to commit to a path of healing, of grieving, and taking care of myself. I learned about loving people, safe people, people who don’t abuse. I cannot believe the person I became in that marriage…like a little girl. But I’m an adult now.

I was diagnosed with PTSD and Iive with a large degree of dissociation: spaciness, forgetfulness, feeling foggy, headaches, and lethargy. I am dysthymic all the time. Anxiety has been a huge issue for me. I found my way to therapy, and it has been a Godsend. EMDR helps, as does yoga and creative arts.

I feel empowered enough to grieve, learn, create, and thrive.

I still hate him. I feel sorry for him. I have compassion for him. I’m in a stage where acceptance of my feelings means just that: allowing myself to have my feelings because for so long I wasn’t allowed to feel.

I wish I’d known about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), re-enactment, and repetition compulsion. But honestly, looking back, I wasn’t ready. Things had to get as bad as they got for me before I could heal.

What would I say to others going through what I went through? I’d say:

Keep going. Please don’t give up, especially if you are in family court. Family court is a dark, dark place with no logic or ethics and is re-traumatizing. Gather a support system and work to not isolate yourself from life. Work to re-connect with the sweetness and goodness of life, because it is there. Healing is possible, vital, and the best thing you will ever do for yourself!

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Paula Reeves-Carrasquillo

Mindfulness Coach at Love. Life. Om. Mindfulness
Paula is a passionate and innovative author, educator, and mindfulness coach.
Paula Reeves-Carrasquillo
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